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UK charitable giving – how generous are we?

(Image: Cory Doctorow via Flickr)
(Image: Cory Doctorow via Flickr)

Christmas is a time of year when we think about others and give to charity. According to one charitable giving organisation, the 21st December is the busiest day of the year for online donations in the UK. Laurinda Luffman asks whether or not we should be feeling good about ourselves...

....well, apparently not as much as others, according to a new study which hails people in the United States as the most charitable in the world. But is it true that our American cousins are more generous than we are?

Charity begins at home

Taking our country as a whole, we can actually stand tall. More than thirty years ago, the world’s richest countries, including the USA and the UK, agreed to give 0.7% of their gross national income to international development aid. Decades later, only five countries have kept their promise – Luxembourg, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. However, the UK is now close to joining these generous nations, giving 0.56% of our national income in 2012.

Relief in Mali TPA 65655
In Mali, these people are the grateful recipients of food relief provided thanks to charitable donations

In comparison, the USA ranks near the very bottom of wealthy countries, giving only 0.2% of its income towards development abroad (with only Japan, Spain, Greece and Italy giving less).

But what about our giving as individuals? In the 2013 ‘World Giving Index’ published by CAF, US citizens came top (out of 160 countries) for their charitable nature, with UK citizens in 6th place. These overall rankings are based on surveys where individuals answer three questions: whether in the past month they have donated any money (amount unspecified), volunteered their time to a charity or helped a stranger.

US citizens achieved the highest score for all three types of ‘giving’ combined. Nevertheless, for the single measure of having donated money to a charity in the last month, citizens in the USA were nowhere in the top 10, while those in the UK jumped to the number 2 position (behind people in Myanmar).

Measuring generosity

But perhaps the most usual measure for generosity is not how often people give, but what proportion of their income and to whom? In the USA, individuals are estimated to have given away 217 billion dollars in 2012, which equates to an impressive £40 per month per person. This average is no doubt high thanks to the largesse of wealthy American philanthropists - more than 50% of all giving in the USA stems from the wealthiest 10% of US citizens, while in the UK, the wealthiest 10% of people account for 20% of all giving.

Bakoteh nurse and boy 56676
The largest proportion of UK charitable donations goes on medical research and hospitals

Americans are therefore extraordinarily generous in their giving. However, much of this giving stays within the country, where the most preferred recipients are religious organisations and colleges/universities/education, which account for 45% of all donations. Only around 6% of charitable giving in the USA goes to international causes.

In comparison, surveys in the UK (conducted by CAF) show that approximately 10% of money donated by UK citizens goes to overseas causes, with medical research/hospitals accounting for the largest chunk of our giving at 30%.

With an estimated £9 billion donated to charity by individuals in the UK during 2011/12, our giving averages £12 per person per month. This reflects our lower earnings (income per head in the UK averages £22,900 annually compared with £30,900 in the USA) and the fact that philanthropy is not valued as highly among our wealthiest citizens. However, this may be changing, especially among those who are self-made and tend to be more socially conscious.

So come on Brits... let’s show the rest of the world what we’re made of and when we can, give extra each time we donate to charity, because the accolade of becoming the most generous people in the world would be an achievement of which we could be justly proud.

Feeling generous? Make a Christmas donation to SOS Children to help the world's most vulnerable children.

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